Do you trust your spouse? I guess a better way to ask this question would be: Do you have trust in your spouse?
In order to talk about forgiveness in your marriage, we first have to look at how we lose the trust in each other.
I divide trust into two basic categories: “Macro-trust” and “Micro-trust.”
Macro-trust is the trust we usually think about when we’re talking about trust in a relationship and it covers the big things like fidelity, addictions, violence towards each other, and willingness to discuss issues.
If a marriage doesn’t have Macro-trust, it’s not a viable relationship and it won’t last.
For now I want us to focus on the other kind of trust, namely, Micro-trust.
This trust is the one we don’t usually think about very often, at least not deliberately and consciously. It involves things like trusting your spouse to handle whatever it is you need to tell them without making you feel bad or attacking you or ignoring you or getting defensive with you right away.
Micro-trust also involves the feeling of knowing that your spouse will support you emotionally in life, including trying to understand your desires, wishes, what you want, don’t want, like, and don’t like. It is the knowledge that you have that your spouse truly thinks about you even when you’re not around, and even when there’s nothing immediately in it for them.
Micro-trust is often the trust we lose first in our marriages. It begins to fade as we “betray” each other with our lack of truly Listening (remember LVAC?), Validating, Asking questions to learn about each other, and Commenting last, if at all.
We also lose the trust when our spouses begin to sense a childishness about us which often shows itself in our selfishness or even our narcissism, so to speak. It is that vibe we give off that says, “Sure I love you, but, hey, I come first when the s@%t hits the fan!” That means that if I’m low energy, tired, hungry, frustrated, distracted, worried, or somehow overwhelmed, I’ll snap at you, deprioritize you, become sarcastic with you, not listen to you or try to hear you, etc. And all the while I’ll also make demands of you. In a word, I’ll be an Emotionally Incompetent Adult with you when I’m under duress, or perhaps any time at all- totally unpredictable!
The problem with losing the Micro-trust is that, unlike Macro-trust issues, it’s often insidious. If you have an affair, or spend your paycheck on alcohol or drugs, or gamble it away, it’ll be pretty obvious that your spouse won’t trust you for long.
But with Micro-trust issues; issues like lack of consideration, lack of listening, a sense of uncaring or inconsistency, the effect is often one of buildup of resentment and disconnect in the marriage.
Now for the forgiveness part.
People will often tell me, once they’ve learned about these things, that they can literally pinpoint the moments in which they began to lose the Micro-trust in their spouses, or vice-versa: a lie here, an outburst there, a deception or ulterior motive over there. Whatever the case may be, they begin to see what happened.
Now the question becomes, what can we do about it to fix it?
People have taught me that one important step which needs to be addressed before there can be true healing in a marriage is the forgiveness step.
We must literally ask our spouses for forgiveness.
But this goes beyond simply saying, “I’m sorry.”
Asking for this kind of forgiveness involves more than just words. It involves a mindset, a spirit, and an adjustment in your heart.
It involves allowing yourself to first feel the pain which led you to act the way you acted or would habitually act with them. We often live or act out our pain on other people, and we don’t even realize that we’re in pain to begin with.
Maybe we’re angry, frustrated, afraid, uncertain, confused, anxious, excited, worried, or out of sorts somehow. The fact is that we acted out this “pain” on the other person, and most likely more than once.
So when we’re contemplating asking for forgiveness, we must first take ownership of our true feelings. This way, the act of asking for forgiveness actually starts with addressing ourselves first; our pain.
Next, we think about the pain, confusion, betrayal, anger, sadness, or despair we’ve caused the other person. We must feel that as well, for we are responsible for that too.
In other words, asking for forgiveness in a truly adult, Emotionally Competent way means that we are acknowledging both our own pain, as well as the pain we’ve caused the other person.
Now this process may take you some time to go through so don’t rush it or it won’t be as real as it needs to be. When you ask for forgiveness in the way that I’m describing, you are also asking, begging actually, for a clean slate. You see, we humans usually don’t like to think of ourselves as being disliked or as being the source of someone’s pain; it simply discourages us from being able to change the things in ourselves that we need to change.
No, in order to truly and permanently change and grow into our most Emotionally Competent, true adult selves, it is vital that we feel forgiven by those we’ve hurt the most.
And, especially in our marriages, this becomes an essential prerequisite to the process of rebuilding the Emotional Credibility with each other which we’ve lost over the years when we lost the Micro-trust (remember, Emotional Credibility= trust + liking the other person and wanting to be around them.)
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
(As previously promised, next time I’ll talk about the difference between Unconditional Love and Unconditional Positive Regard from my REALADULTS mnemonic, then, after that, I’ll share with you the ways to identify pain. Many of these concepts are also covered in my new book, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First), as well as in my other books which you can check out at http://www.LVACNation.com or http://www.DrFerraioli.com)